Environment Magazine

Iron Fertilisation as a Climate Change Mitigation Strategy

Posted on the 07 October 2011 by Frontiergap @FrontierGap

Iron fertilisation as a climate change mitigation strategy

The topical subject of climate change, and how to deal with it, is an important issue that the scientific community are hotly debating.
The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) recently hosted a workshop that included a large gathering of researchers from India, Chile, Germany, the Norwegian Polar Institute and the University of Bergen. The aim was to draft a research plan that hoped to address fundamental issues and questions on the interaction between the biogeochemistry of the polar oceans and climate change.
The discussions centred on how complex food web behavior within the Polar Oceans might be altered to help remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The focus of this alteration is on the possible use of iron fertilisation which is known to increase phytoplankton growth.
Phytoplankton are microscopic photosynthetic organisms, that under the correct conditions can form large blooms. They represent the base of all oceanic food webs. Iron is found naturally within the oceans and is an essential component in phytoplankton growth and bloom creation. The large amount of carbon that is taken in by phytoplankton during a bloom is later exported to the deep sea after the bloom has finished. As a result, the artificial promotion of growth in phytoplankton within the oceans, through the use of iron fertilisation experiments, has demonstrated that significant amounts of carbon can be removed from the surface water therefore, reducing the impact of climate change.
The important question to ask is can iron fertilisation be effective enough to reduce CO2 levels globally? The answer to this is simply, no, it can’t. CO2 levels in the atmosphere are currently around 386 parts per million (PPM) with estimates of increases to 2058 PPM by 2100. Using global models, scientists have found that if 20% of the global ocean were fertilised with iron 15 times a year until 2100, only 32 PPM would actually be removed.
Furthermore iron fertilisation has shown to cause a number of different side effects such as the creation of Nitrous oxide (N2O) (which is 300 times more potent than CO2).
The continuous fertilisation of the ocean has been thought to result in the creation of widespread areas of anoxic water and increases in ocean acidification have been predicted. Overall, ecosystems globally may be changed irreversibly.
Consequently, Iron Fertilisation has currently been dismissed as a feasible climate change mitigation strategy. However, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that an effective solution to the climate change problem must be found.    
By Anthony Kubale

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